SALT LAKE CITY — More than a quarter of the Utah population dropped, covered and held on at 10:15 a.m. Thursday during the Great Utah Shakeout, an event designed to promote preparedness for earthquake survival and recovery.
At least 833,800 people registered to participate from colleges, media outlets, school districts, faith-based organizations, government employees, nonprofits, businesses and other groups. This was the third year of the Shakeout, organized by the Utah Division of Emergency Management.
Emergency officials hope Utahns will learn from the exercise and become better prepared.
"The Shakeout is going to be what they make of it," said Joe Dougherty, spokesman for the division. "This is a great time to just go through and review all of your emergency preparedness."
Dougherty recommended people look at their emergency kits, review their emergency plans, look around for things that can fall during the earthquake and make sure water heaters are strapped and secure. He said Utahns are great at being prepared — about 75 percent of the state has an emergency kit — but everyone can always do better.
"The really important thing is that Utah has the potential for a major damaging earthquake. An earthquake with a magnitude the size of 7.0 would cause thousands of deaths, thousands of buildings to collapse. It would disrupt the sewer system, the water lines, the power systems, communications would go down," he said.
Individuals should prepare to be self-sufficient, Dougherty said, so they can function during a disaster and recover afterward.
Schoolchildren and college students said they gained confidence after participating in the earthquake drill Thursday.
"I thought it was a good idea to practice, just in case an earthquake happens. I'm so glad that I will be able to be safe in an earthquake because I know the drill," said Anne Parsons, an eighth-grader at Dixon Middle School.
Gov. Gary Herbert also huddled underneath his desk Thursday. Employees at the state Capitol participated in an evacuation drill and the public information officers attended a seminar training.
According to one of the building's docents, the Capitol is the place to be during an earthquake. Part of the four-year renovation and preservation that began in 2004 was to make the building earthquake-resistant. A seismic base isolation system was put in place to hold up the building and let it sway 24 inches in each direction during an earthquake.
Other buildings may not fare as well during an earthquake, but people are more likely to survive disasters if they continue to consistently make "little steps" in emergency preparedness, Dougherty said.
First responders, including law enforcement, fire departments and public works departments, also received response training Thursday.
The Salt Lake County Public Works Department gave its employees hands-on practice responding to an earthquake. Last year, the department's 130 employees drove along their snowplow routes and practiced damage assessment.
This year, workers went through different scenarios at Welby Pit in South Jordan where they had to perform first-aid triage, remove debris, handle fires and use a cribbing tactic to leverage heavy concrete that may trap someone. Sometimes they have to clean up things like debris blocking roads or waterline breaks before the fire and police departments can even come in.
"Some of the guys, they've been through training in the classroom before and so they learned a lot today by doing the hands-on stuff, even the fire extinguisher," said Kevyn Smeltzer, director of operations for the Salt Lake County Public Works Department.
It's natural for them to jump in and help, but the training gives them a visual and a hands-on experience to prepare for potential catastrophes, said Leon Berrett, associate director of operations for the department.
"It makes me feel a lot more confident to see my guys out here and actually doing it. They're jumping in and taking care of it, they know what to do and they're not worried about what to do so they'll be able to take care of something in the event of an emergency," Smeltzer said.
For additional information about preparing for earthquakes, Utahns are encouraged to download the Red Cross earthquake app and visit bereadyutah.gov.
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